Ray Anderson, Han Bennink, Ernst Glerum, Frank Möbus, Paul Van Kemenade at the Vortex, Friday 22 October 2010, day 1 of 2-day residency; review and drawings by Geoff Winston
Ray Anderson (slide trombone- above), Han Bennink (snare and Vortex structure), Ernst Glerum (double bass- below), Frank Möbus (electric guitar), Paul Van Kemenade (alto sax)
This multinational quintet clearly love each other's musicial company; the smiles on their faces said it all - Anderson couldn't help grinning all the way through, Glerum beamed as the band settled in, and Bennink's irrepressible laughter and whoops were just part of his rich repertoire.
The accomplished Dutch alto and rhythm section, with Anderson, a Chicagoan via New York, and Berliner Möbus have been touring twice yearly, airing their compositions since 2007. Glerum was classically trained at the Amsterdam Conservatory, and has collaborated with Bennink in the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra; Möbus spent significant academic time in the US and holds Professorships in Germany; van Kamenade, an inspiring teacher, has received many awards and accolades; and Anderson is a 6 times Downbeat Critics Poll winner.
This ensemble has a natural ability to vary the pace, and swing from one gear to another in the blink of an eye. Anderson's understated masterclass on slide trombone was an exposition of its full range and tonal richness - acknowledging, in this context, JJ Johnson's and Mangelsldorff's small groups - counterpoised perfectly by Van Kemenade's alto, batting licks mixed with precise duets, and pushing out growls straight from the Mingus canon. Bennink, wicked as ever, cooked up a rich stew of light clatterings, all manner of brushwork and sharp attacks - astonishingly, on a single snare drum - as well as assaults on the structural column holding up the Vortex! Glerum's practiced bass often set the tone, blending with Möbus's carefully placed chordwork.
They wheeled off at a tight, high-spirited pace with 'Who is in charge?', written two weeks previously. A Möbus composition, 'Petshop', followed, which started wistfully but, before you knew it, Bennink's foot was on his snare to modulate the crisp sound and the brass offered a looser, free approach, with Anderson then picking up his mute to find more internal and subdued pitches. At one point the bass was set against mellow guitar samples sounding like a record being played backwards and Bennink scraped his snare with the brushes to grind out a raw backdrop. Glerum's 'Silver Nickel', a homage to pianists Horace and Herbie, was introduced with banter about nickels, quarters and dimes, and kicked off with a bluesy bass line which then turned on a funky backbeat. The brass welled up with real force to convincingly suggest that a full big band had taken to the stage.
Anderson's 'As Yet' opened the second set, drawing on Dizzy's and Kenny Clarke's 'Salt Peanuts' - I expected them to shout it out, in authentic style! A Dolphy-esque alto and Anderson's rasping trombone gave way to Bennink's measured military/New Orleans rolls and his short solo in which he briefly had one drumstick in his mouth, tapping it with the other. Anderson's 'Funkalific' ("funkorrific", quipped Van Kemenade) saw the frontmen fiercely trading phrases against a choppy bass and quivering guitar, with an aptly quoted 'It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing' dropped in for good measure.
They finished with a gorgeous rendering of Charlie Haden's classic 'Song for Ché', captivating bowed bass and gentle, nestled guitar chords resting on the sensitive snare which accelerated before they all slowed right down to put the seal on a warm and inspired evening's music.